Restorative Nostalgia of Photo Filters


Master thesis project





Installation views


“The word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots, nostos meaning “return home” and algia “longing.”


Svetlana Boym, 2007: 7


“Technology that once promised to bridge modern displacement and distance and provide the miracle prosthesis for nostalgic aches has itself become much faster than nostalgic longing. More precisely, technology and nostalgia have become codependent: new technology and advanced marketing stimulate ersatz nostalgia—for the things you never thought you had lost—and anticipatory nostalgia—for the present that flees with the speed of a click. “


Svetlana Boym, 2007: 10




Author’s photo album




“We find two groups of serious and casual photographers among filter users. The serious see filters as correction tools and prefer milder effects. Casual photographers, by contrast, use filters to significantly transform their photos with bolder effects. We also find that filtered photos are 21% more likely to be viewed and 45% more likely to be commented on by consumers of photographs. Specifically, filters that increase warmth, exposure and contrast boost engagement the most.”


Saeideh Bakhshi jt, 2015: 1

Warm Suspension of Disbelief


Selection of filters from Instagram:

Mayfair, Rise, Valencia, Hefe, Nashville, Lark, Slumber, Aden

Pigment print

50 x 35 cm



“Instagram and the networked camera thus emerge as an interface, that is, a point of interaction, between lived experience and imaginative pleasure, allowing the manipulation of appearances to inspire pleasurable daydreaming. This interface is subjective in the sense that it is self-directed and selfconsumed in situ through the prosumptive combination of practice, affective framing through captions that indicate mood or desire, and performative composition. It is also inter-subjective in the sense that emotive images of joy, desire, and less commonly despair or anger, are published for others to consume and with other’s potential responses and interests in mind.”


Aaron Frey, 2012: 51




Documentation of a live feed scrolling on Instagram’s hashtag #nofilter



In my view, two kinds of nostalgia characterize one’s relationship to the past, to the imagined community, to home, to one’s own selfperception: restorative and reflective [… ] Restorative nostalgia puts emphasis on nostos and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps. Reflective nostalgia dwells in algia, in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance.


Svetlana Boym, 2001: 41



The aim of my Master thesis “Restorative Nostalgia of Photo Filters” is to introduce a theoretical background and an analysis of individual artworks that are part of my master's degree art project. My project focuses on filters in digital photography that are mostly used in the context of social media. The filters that I am interested in have nostalgic properties and may manipulate the way one might perceive the content of the photographs posted on social media.


The first part of the thesis introduces photographic filters from their use in analogue photography to their use in digital photography and looks at the process of democratization of photography from Kodak’s “Box No. 1” (McCullough) camera to Instagram’s social network. A filter in digital imaging takes many forms but I am focusing in the context of the thesis on the process where filtration starts with the manipulation of pixels in post-processing software. By introducing the democratization process of photography I look at a pattern where photography has become from an elitist medium to a point where we can talk about not just amateur but “every day photographers”. In the context of social media platforms like Instagram, it is also important to mention in which conditions the production and consuming of the photographs takes place. The producers and consumers become prosumers (Toffler) by creating their own images and by consuming images of other users in the context of web 2.0 platforms like Instagram. In that ecosystem, different trends emerge in which prosumers express their lifestyles and desires. That’s the part where the nostalgia enters the equation. We live in the age of fabricated nostalgia, or as Arjun Appadurai calls it - nostalgia without lived experience. I see the photographic filter as a potential stimuli that might induce nostalgia in users that consume a filtered photo of a desired subject or object. To me this nostalgia is restorative - a type of nostalgia described by Svetlana Boym in her book “The Future of Nostalgia”. Boym introduces two types of nostalgia that might describe nostalgic longing. One is Restorative, it does not think of it as nostalgia at all and it thinks of it as the truth and the further it moves from it’s desired moment in time, the better the moment is perceived to be. The other type is called Reflective nostalgia and this represents a self-conscious longing that is aware that the object of nostalgia is elusive. The filter becomes a restorative layer on top of the photograph, a digital artefact that adds value to the image and this value can be fabricated.



The second part of the thesis introduces three photo filtering trends and their nostalgic tendencies. With each of the trend in mind, I have made three artworks that illustrate their nature and comment on them. Starting with a video work of that features images that I have taken when I started to experiment with photography and filters, I look at how filtering might have manipulated my memory. My second work “Warm Suspension of Disbelief” looks at filtered images in the context of Instagram as a existential means of communication and how filters have evolved in mobile photography from stronger effects with material associations to milder filters that cast a warm layer on top of a photo. My third work “#nofilter” looks at the growing trend that positions itself against the filtering of images on Instagram. In the context of web 2.0 platforms, hashtagging is an important process to ensure one’s content to be visible to other users. #nofilter has become increasingly popular within couple of years and this stands as a countertrend against filtered photos on Instagram. Instead it reveals the prosumer model of Instagram, which is to create images of desire (Frey). #nofilter becomes a filter itself (Simon) by it’s stance and by looking at the images under that hashtag we can see a mixture of filtered and unfiltered images which suggest authenticity. But the authenticity isn’t mostly there. These images have been composed or framed in a certain way in order to show off certain lifestyles and consumer culture. These images portray perfected scenes of everyday life and might restoratively induce desire or envy in other users.

Full thesis (in Estonian)


Installation views

My Masters project was exhibited at the Estonian Academy of Arts MA graduation show TASE’16 at the former Suva stocking factory.


© 2024


Restorative Nostalgia

of Photo Filters


Master thesis project





Installation views